BOSTON (CBS) – Being a musician isn’t just about playing music. A huge component — oftentimes harder and more time-consuming than the music itself — is the endless self-promotion. Especially if your band is unsigned, you may find yourself playing the roles of booking agent, publicist, and manager simultaneously. Some musicians find this truth to be unpleasant: networking is just as important in the arts as it is in other industries. You have to become your own salesman.
Boston’s vibrant musical community touches on virtually every genre imaginable, and networking is relatively easy within a given genre, but many musicians never interact with others outside of their own small circles. This puts a damper on the infinite strange and wonderful collaborations that could arise from inter-genre networking. Fortunately, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Social, founded in 2003, exists to help bridge these gaps, connecting musicians to each other and to others in the industry that could help launch an unknown band into the spotlight, at least locally.
“Good times. Cheap beer,” reads the Social slogan. On the second Tuesday of every month, musicians from a wide range of genres (plus a variety of writers, radio DJs, and other industry folks) invade Allston’s Model Cafe to network, promote upcoming shows, and build relationships (and, of course, drink cheap beer). By the way, the Model is not actually a cafe; it is a fantastic dive bar full of odd decor. Painted on one wall, for example, is a giant flaming skull. A creepy doll stands over one of the doors, and some of the stools boast worn-looking leopard print cushions.
There are several types of Social attendees. The most successful are generally the ones who enter into genuine conversations with people; promotion is always the undercurrent, but it’s not forced. The least successful are the ones who walk around shoving fliers and free CDs into people’s hands, without stopping to listen. One-sided promotion tends to go one way — into the trash. The third type is just one person, Book Lady. Always drinking a White Russian and always reading a book, she seems offended that people are being loud… in a bar. Be like the first type. And avoid angering the third type.
Some months are busier than others, and on slow Social nights, the genre-based cliques do seem to stick together more, making it a bit intimidating for newbies. This is where the Social isn’t living up to its full potential: it’s full of familiar faces, and outsiders seem afraid to join. If word spreads about the Social, though, and people put themselves out there, knowing that it’s actually a welcoming environment, the Social would become even more useful and enjoyable.
Musicians helping musicians can open up many doors. Take a chance and drag your band along next time. Who knows? You might end up with the world’s most interesting classical-punk-rap collaboration, or you might just get a few more people to show up at your next gig. Either way, there’s nothing to lose by giving it a try one night a month.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.